By Zaphod Beeblebrox
What is it mimics see when they stare at a mirror? A shard of some life forever lost in the translation of another's actions? A sense of self? Perhaps some hint of humanity regained in comparison to what they were before? Contrary to popular belief, mimicry is not an art that simply went extinct. Quite the opposite, in fact. If anything, neglect has only made mimicry that much more determined to survive. Yes, survive. It's a sentient form after all, as every bit sentient as you or I. Is it really so difficult to believe? What is it that 'you' see when you stare into the mirror? Just a reflection? A perfect mirror image? Or something else? The ultimate nightmare is that which lies within, and within is where this tale lays its scene . . .
* * *
The gambler's fingers raked shallow grooves into the fine polished wood of his armchair. It was beginning to look as though a Wererat had gotten to it, but there was little beyond total victory that would help to quill such impatience. His circle had planned, ruminated, and scrambled ruthlessly for this day for almost two years. Much had happened, and the world had changed a dozen times since then. Through them, continents sank, skies shook, millions were sent to early graves, and an entire republic had even been uprooted and laid to waste.
But it wasn't enough. It would never be enough, so long as Kefka and his band of freedom fighters continued to draw breath. They fought for their own kind just as Setzer and his group fought for the rights of esperkind. But things had progressed entirely too far for any common ground to exist between them. Kefka and his kind needed to die. There was no second option.
A knock sounded at his stateroom door, and Setzer lifted his head of mangy silver hair in its direction. What could they possibly want this time? Didn't any of them have their priorities straightened out by now?
"What is it?" he growled.
The door was ripped open and a craven, blond-haired woman was tossed in unceremoniously from the shadows outside. She shook like a leaf, tossed about and beaten as she had been by the crew of the Falcon. Harsh scrapes and bruises ran zigzag along her arms and legs, and she cradled a wrist close to her chest as though it had been broken in one of the encounters. She looked up at Setzer from where she had fallen, her emerald eyes rimmed with tears and silently pleading for his mercy. But his own expression remained unwavering, as though his entire face was carved out of granite.
"Oh," he said offhandedly, "It's you again."
"Please . . ." She struggle to find her feet, eventually succeeding but having a difficult time keeping her balance. "You don't have to do this. Those are innocent people you're gunning for. They have families, loved ones."
The gambler picked himself up from his seat, which seemed to groan in relief from being spared of his presence. The woman turned her face away as he came closer, more from the stench of blood and uncleanliness than from the intimidation factor. Celes winced in pain just from having to look at the mangled features of that insidious face.
"You've either been knocked around too much or not enough. These people you speak of are far from innocent. They seek to destroy the Statues which help to maintain the existence of magic in this world. How can we let something like this happen when it's already done so much for us?"
She looked him straight in the eye this time. "It's devastated our landscapes, killed millions of people, stirred hundreds of thousands more to take part in this twisted little crusade of yours. Magic isn't a gift, it's a nightmare." She glimpsed down at the magicite around his neck. "And you're probably the biggest hypocrite of them all. You say you fight for equality between humans and espers, yet you go about wielding their remains as though they're some kind of narcotic."
Setzer touched the magicite shard gingerly, which gave off a soothing glow in response. "Their remains were given to us of their own accord."
He bore a set of crooked, broken teeth in reply, and Celes strained to keep her composure. "And are you sure you're out to kill these people of your own accord? Maybe the esper within is making you do all of these heinous crimes, maybe--"
A fist came from out of nowhere, smacking her square across the jaw. The coppery taste of blood came almost before she could collapse upon the iron plates of the stateroom floor. The gambler grabbed her by the collar then, his face wrapped in a sneer so tight that the scars on his face cracked and bled anew.
"Who controls who is going to be the least of your worries by the time I'm through with you." Celes didn't dare say anything or even move a muscle, only curled herself up and wailed softly. "Perhaps you really haven't been knocked around enough."
He kicked open his stateroom door and whistled for someone to enter. A woman heeded his call, making her way into the sanctum breathing and perspiring heavily as though she had just come from a week-long hunt. The two of them had the misfortune of meeting a few times before, and death suddenly didn't sound so bad. She was a woman no larger or smaller than Celes was, but she was more heavily trained in extreme combat and was practically a legend when it came to torture techniques. The steely glint to her azure eyes paralyzed her even now.
"Rachel, you remember Ms. Chere. The two of you had the pleasure of meeting just a couple of days ago when we were looking for information as to the whereabouts of Kefka and his troupe."
She nodded and smiled, her inky black locks bouncing as she did so. "But of course. Do you believe that there's something else she's not telling us?"
"Not really. I just thought she could stand to take a few more slams before we do away with her completely."
She would have been only too pleased to poke, prod, and cut away at a pressure point or two so as to bring about slow and exquisite agony. The idea of stirring someone - anyone - into frantic screams and uncontrollable spasms of pain almost put her into heat. But of course, there was one thing that was more pleasurable than anything else.
"Certainly," she said, "If the price is right, of course."
The gambler gave as close to a smile as he could manage with a face that was pushed completely out of shape. Fishing out a drawstring of gold from the cache of bullion that flanked each side of his armchair, he tossed it over to his head enforcer. She plucked it out of the air without dropping a single piece, jingled it once to test its weight, then shoved it down into one of her tunic pockets.
"Always a pleasure."
"No, please . . ."
Rachel seized the woman by the ragged hem of her cape and dragged her out of the chamber kicking and screaming. The gambler only laughed at the display, and the laughter would chase after her all throughout the ship. There was no mercy to be found aboard the Falcon, after all.
* * *
Another time, a different place, a whole other dimension perhaps, the Falcon would have been a place of good cheer and celebration. Its passengers would have likely been trying their best to forget yesterday and take pride in tomorrow, not the other way around as things seemed to work here. Perhaps it was all just a fading dream. Celes certainly seemed to think so anyway. There were no cheery faces to line these corridors. There wasn't even any light, only a black recess where junior officers fought like dogs over the gambler's position. The sounds were so deafening that it rattled Celes to her core.
But things were about to get louder around here . . .
"Hold still!" Drawing back yet again, Rachel sent another crack of her whip across Celes' exposed back. "You're only going to make it worse for yourself if you keep squirming around like that!"
But Celes could barely hear her. There was no whip lashing against her back, no Rachel, no Falcon, nothing. Only a world of pain. She had held out half a hope that after so many repeat appointments with this demented woman, she would have built up some kind of immunity to such anguish. But now she was learning the more harsher reality to pain, that only unconsciousness or death could possibly provide any kind of relief from it all.
"Why is it you people bother to keep me around at all if I've already given you the information you've been after?"
"Because Kefka wouldn't risk blowing this ship out of the sky as long as he knows you're still aboard with us." If Celes had silently hoped for a little conversation to stave off Rachel's savage assault, she would be disappointed. She continued to tear her back into ribbons even as she acknowledged her victim's question. "And as long as he knows this, the Falcon is immune to his meddling."
"Kefka . . ." So. He still held out hope that she was alive. Even though she had ratted out the Republic and had the Falcon coming for them even now, he still cared about her. If only she could have told him how she felt when she still had the chance. "You'll never get away with any of this. The Republic will prevail."
Rachel drew back one of her gauntlets and smashed the jagged lump of mithril hard across her temple. Celes slumped and said nothing else. "No, my dear. Your Republic is already dead."
"I see you're still working your magic."
She glanced over her shoulder and gave the man in the doorway a half-smile. If he smiled back at all, it was barely noticeable beneath a goatee that was as long as the short sword on his belt. He seemed the type of person that had been oppressed all throughout his life, yet still carried himself with enough muscle to shrug it off as though it were just another slipshod member of the Republic. What scars he had allowed himself to suffer over the years he carried like metals of honor, with at least one etched across his left eye and another down the length of his naked right arm. A moth-eaten bandana kept his long dark hair tied back, away from his good eye so as to look his favorite enforcer up and down.
"What kept you so long, mister?" She grabbed him by his weather-worn collar, pulled him close, and kissed him deeply. Celes Chere may as well have never existed. "You missed the finishing touches I was putting on this one."
"Couldn't be helped." He stepped to one side and looked the captive woman over as though scrutinizing her appearance. "Edgar was looking for someone to amuse again, so naturally he found me."
"Naturally." She wiped her brow off and cleaned the blood from her whip with an old rag. "Making more modifications to that brother of his, I take it."
"It's not his brother," he replied, as if he actually gave a damn.
"Well, whatever it is." She found a clean end of the rag and started wiping away the sweat between her breasts. "All I'm saying is that, he ought to find himself a machine that's complete, not grafting pots and pans to some dustbuster he named after his brother. Am I right?"
Her significant other seemed to lose his voice all of a sudden, checking the lifeless woman for signs that Rachel's torture hadn't damaged something vital. But she was completely limp, hanging from her tethers like the pendulum of a broken clock. He checked her for a pulse, then shook his head.
"You killed her."
All Rachel did was blink. Locke's words didn't seem to register with her at first. She had beaten many of her captives within an inch of their lives but had never actually killed one before. It wasn't exactly the way she worked, letting people off the hook by killing them outright.
"Well, it's not my fault that she couldn't take a few hard knocks." She looked into the mirror on the wall, checking the gloss of her eye shadow as though she had done nothing wrong. "Besides, if you can't learn to defend yourself around a place like this, you're better off dead."
"Well, it's not like you really gave her much of a fighting chance is it?" The bounty hunter sighed, as if this behavior was not entirely uncommon, and pulled off a dark black gem from around his neck. "Oh well, it's a good thing we found this thing when we did."
Rachel recognized the Dark Phoenix when she saw it. "You're not seriously suggesting . . ."
"We're bringing her back, Rachel."
"Locke . . ." She cupped a hand around his mouth before he could begin the incantation. "I mean, there's no real point is there? Setzer was only going to have her done away with sooner or later anyway."
"Granted," he said. "We, on the other hand, made away with her without orders. If Setzer were to find that much out, he'd have both of our heads. That's not part of the plan, now is it?"
He brushed a gloved hand down along her cheek.
"Come on, now. You remember our plan. We have to make nice-nice with that wandering troll until he takes care of Kefka and his troupe. Then--"
"I know, I know. We stab him in the back and take the Falcon for ourselves."
He smiled. "Mmm-hmm. We can't very well stick to the plan if we give that basketcase a reason to question our loyalty, now can we?"
"I still want to knock her around a bit more."
Locke's smile widened. "So fresh and full of energy, aren't you?" His gaze trailed from her eyes to her breasts, then back to her eyes again. "You'll have to be sure to save some of that for me."
He rattled off the life-giving cantrip at a moment's notice then, allowing for all light and heat to be siphoned out of the chamber - a commonplace phenomena whenever the being made an appearance. Only a pale, grey outline could be seen of the creature, giving sparse illumination upon the lifeless Celes. There was no brilliant display of orange and red, no effulgent glow or some benevolent apparition of mercy. All the scaly beast did was give a roar in the darkness. And Celes was suddenly screaming all over again, her spirit suddenly denied of its otherworldly quest and sent plummeting back into what she had left of a physical form. The wounds she had suffered remained, and only seemed to get worse.
"Please . . ." She craned her head to the abrupt light of the chamber. "Let me go . . ."
Locke's goatee drew up to form a sneer. "I'll leave you two ladies alone."
Again, Rachel's whip clawed and smacked at her victim's back. Again, flesh parted and blood poured anew. Again, Celes was doomed.
"Stop it!" she screamed. "Stop!"
* * *
The mirror in the room watched on - silent, indifferent, oblivious . . .
* * *
"Hey, stop it," said Celes playfully as the treasure hunter planted a kiss on her neck. The two of them had been looking each other over in the mirror for some time now, uncertain as to what else it was they should have been doing now that their job was done. "What if one of the others were to walk in on us or something?"
"I'd say they more or less know about us by this point." He finally pulled himself away from her so as to regard himself in the mirror a bit more closely - his bandana needed adjusting. "If anything, I'd say they'd be congratulating us or at least ask why we hadn't told them sooner."
"Well . . ." She stretched and glanced out of her - out of their - stateroom window. "I don't see how it's any of their business what we do with our lives anyway."
Locke kept his eyes focused on the mirror ahead of him. "Speaking of what we'll be doing with our lives," he said, "have you given it anymore thought after?"
"You mean, going back with you to Kohilegen?" It was a scary thought, settling down with the former treasure hunter. Precious little was actually able to scare Celes of all people, and she somehow believed it had something to do with the fact that the both of them were from two completely different worlds. She tried changing the subject. "What about that expedition we talked about going on, the one to excavate Vector? I thought you were looking forward to that."
Now it was Locke's turn to appear unsettled. Another treasure hunt in the company of a person who meant more to him than any earthly trinket could. It was a scenario more predictable than deja'vu, and a lot less comforting. His eyes wandered to the floor.
"I was," he replied. "That is, to say, I am. It's just that, well, it's not as easy a decision to make as it used to be. Things are just . . ." And he trailed off.
Celes sat down on her cot. "Rachel."
He nodded. "Rachel."
"We've been over this." She reached out and took him by the hand. "The same thing isn't going to happen to me. I can take care of myself."
That's what Rachel used to say, Locke thought quietly to himself. He was even about to counter with these words when the both of them were interrupted by an ecstatic gambler bursting in and waving around a piece of parchment. The two of them drew away from each other almost instantly.
"Hey, you guys!" he cried out as though they were off somewhere on the farside of the airship. "Have you two heard the news? Jidoor is throwing a huge celebration, and it's in our honor! Games, music, fireworks, they're gonna have everything. And we're all invited!"
"I suppose you'll be tagging along just for the games then, huh Setzer?" said Celes jokingly.
"You better believe it." He tucked the message inside of his jacket pocket. "Now, listen. There's no RSVP'ing or fancy dress involved. It's strictly come-as-you-are. We'll be mellon-balling just as soon as the sun goes down, so don't keep the rest of us waiting. Got it?"
"Roger that," Locke answered, still sounding a bit dispirited by the problems which he and Celes were already facing but straining to cover it.
The gambler beamed and stepped back out into the corridor, suddenly waving around the parchmented message again as he caught sight of someone else who hadn't been told. "Hey, Sabin! Have you heard the news? Jidoor's throwing a huge celebration, and it's in our honor! Plenty of food, tests of strength . . ."
Locke closed the door.
"All things considered," he said, back still turned to Celes, "I suppose a little bit of celebrating is as good a way as any to break in this new world of ours."
"Let's just try to have a good time tonight," she told him. "We can worry about what the future has in store for us later, alright?"
He nodded. It seemed like the best solution for the both of them, not to mention every other passenger on board. Relaxation had been long in coming for them, all of them. Best to enjoy it while it lasted, as it would be no easy task rebuilding a world that was mostly rubble.
"Well," he said at last, "Perhaps we ought to get a few winks before the festivities. It's been a bit of a long day, and we're going to need some rest if we're to get some dancing in this evening."
Celes couldn't hold back a smirk, remembering that he made a rather impressive entrance during the opera but couldn't honestly recall seeing him 'waltz' with a partner. "I had no idea you could dance. How good are you?"
Locke smiled and stepped back towards the door. "You'll have to wait until this evening to find that out, won't you?"
* * *
She stirred from her sleep some time later. The sun was lower in the cloudless sky than when she had left it, though it had not yet begun to make its way beneath the endless horizon. She had awoken feeling refreshed in body at least. Mentally, however, she still felt troubled. It didn't seem to concern Locke as much as it did Rachel. Troubled visions came to her during her repose, visions of vengeance and a cold hatred to drive it. A face seemed to accompany the emotions as well, a female face with kohl-rimmed eyes - a woman that was out for her blood.
Celes strained to find something for this image to connect with, then gave up. She needed to compose herself somewhat, at least enough so that it would ward away irrelevant questions from the others.
She stretched and went over to the mirror. "I wish I knew what you were so angry about, Rachel. It's not as if I took him from you or anything." She picked up her brush and started straightening out her tangled hair. "All I did was catch him on the rebound. That doesn't reflect badly on me, it's just the way it--"
Celes stopped what she was doing of a sudden as her eyes came across something that had no earthly business being in her stateroom. She was still herself, and her brush was still just a brush, but the reflection looking back at her seemed to be telling her something different. It seemed to tell her that she was actually holding a small spiked mace and that she was doing some critical damage to herself by continuing to run it through her hair. The woman on the other side of the mirror grimaced with pain and was even shedding tears when Celes told it to do no such thing. She tried shaking her head to clear out the cobwebs. But the twisted, bloody visage remained.
She let the brush fall from her fingers, eyes looking the mirror over more closely for anything else that appeared amiss or out of place. It was then that she glimpsed writing scrawled into the cabinet below, or rather, scrawled into the cabinet's reflection where her brush had been sitting. Though the text was barely legible, Celes knew it was the penmanship belonging to their estranged mimic. She leaned in close to the mirror, making sure that all of the message was readily visible:
What you now appear to be reading, Returner-friend, is a distortion of reality. What you are is not what you see. Close the distance between yourself and the mirror, and discover the truth for yourself . . .
Again, Celes tried shaking out the cobwebs. Again, it was of no avail. She was aware that this stateroom had once belonged to Gogo, but what did that mean? Had he jinxed the room around her with some sleight of hand? Was it something more complex, as though this place had some sort of cosmic significance? Was she even still awake? There was only one way to know for sure.
She reached out at her contorted reflection, ever so cautiously drawing it nearer so that nothing could take her off guard. Her fingers felt for the glass of the mirror, but all they came to find was a surface that seemed liquid to the touch. Her image suddenly wasn't there anymore, rippling and bending silently as though it was a millpond being broken after a stone skims its surface. Immediately, Celes drew her hand back. The mirror was at once whole again.
"What the devil . . ." she began, but nothing else she said could possibly touch the sense of astonishment she felt. She reached out to the mirror again, pushing her hand in further this time. "Gogo, you are truly one messed up son of a Zoneat--"
Something from within seized Celes without warning, and the mirror swallowed her whole.
* * *
For an entire nothingth of a second, Celes Chere had the oddest sensation of having her entire body (organs and all) being twisted inside out. Whether it was meant to be an accommodating or painful experience, there was no way of knowing. The entire moment ended so quickly that a potential stimulus had almost no time of reaching her brain, much less be able to generate any sort of reaction. She was expelled from the void almost the second she had entered it, and it seemed to take ages for her senses to readjust to the surroundings.
All was black. The dark seemed so concentrated that she had to feel an appendage to remind herself that she was still present. Was this what Gogo had felt when s/he vanished on them back at the tower? If so, she only hoped that this was the same void that had swallowed up their mimic. A guide would be a nice thing to have in shadow as all-encompassing as this.
"Hello . . ." She kept her voice low, with a tone that was nonthreatening. "Is there anyone there? It's okay, I won't bite or anything."
Her acute Imperial ears picked up on what sounded like crying, though Celes couldn't be sure if the someone was trying to communicate with her or just wish to be left alone.
"I'm not going to hurt you." She inched her way closer to the crying, tapping her knuckles on the floor to test how it conducted sound. It was solid iron. "I'm just looking for a way out, possibly even the light swi--"
Her wandering hands came across a limb, and the voice that was once crying was now letting out an agonized wail. Celes seemed to anticipate it, since the limb felt stringy and slick with blood. The air around them was already rife with the smell.
"Oh God, I'm sorry!" Celes backed herself away. "I'm so sorry. What happened to you?"
The voice that answered back was a feminine one, one that seemed oddly familiar but not enough so to pin it down precisely. "They . . . they wanted . . . answers. I gave them what I . . . what I knew. But that woman, that . . . witch!" The woman's sanity seemed to teeter precariously between anger and despair. "She did this . . . to me. I can barely . . . I can't even feel my legs."
"Everything's going to be fine, now." Celes inched closer to the woman's side, testing her shoulder for injury before squeezing it for support. "I'll help you get out of here. My name is Celes, Celes Chere. What's your name?"
There was a brief moment of silence, as though the other woman was taking a minute or so to make sure she had heard correctly.
"Celes," the other woman replied awkwardly, "Celes . . . Chere?"
Another awkward silence followed. Had the general heard the woman correctly? Had the woman heard the general correctly?
"Right," said the general, trying to make some sense out of what she was hearing. "That's my name. Now, what's your name?"
"Celes Chere!" the woman responded, this time screaming the name at the top of her lungs. Her physical stress had already reached its limits from the number the black-haired woman had done on her. She wasn't about to let some stranger get away with playing head games and push her mental limits as well. "Do I have to spell it out for you?!"
"You just might." Celes kept her voice calm and even, not wanting to upset Celes (or whoever she was) any more than she already had been. "I'm not exactly from around these parts."
The sound of a body slumping against the cast iron walls prompted a sigh from the general, and she gave her one of the last potions still burning a hole in her travel pouch. She threw back the concoction in one draught, and her strength and voice returned almost immediately.
"I used to be a praetor," she began, amazed at how clear her throat suddenly sounded, "One of the chief law officers appointed by the Republic of Vector. I was following orders to try and talk peace to a Returner faction. But they fell back on their word and had me incarcerated in this ship of theirs. They've been using me ever since to try and find what remains of the Republic. What about you, what's your story?"
"Kinda the opposite." The general scrunched up her brow in thought. "Exactly the opposite, actually. I was once a general, a general to the Empire of Vector. I actually disobeyed the orders of my superiors under moral objections. They were the ones who had me incarcerated until the Returners helped me escape."
Celes scoffed. "It seems that we come from some very different worlds, General."
"You can say that again."
"We come from some very different "
"Shhhhhh." The general clapped a hand across her counterpart's mouth. "I just heard footsteps, did you?"
She felt the woman's head shake, but then she heard the footsteps for herself. Cold dread crept up her spine. The gait of the stride, the weight in each foot, the soft whisper of a cloak trailing close behind. Celes knew already who was coming.
"Oh God!" Celes knocked the general's hands away from her. "She's back again! Please, you have to do something. I can't go through all of that again."
"Go through all of what?" The general wasn't about to admit it openly, but putting up with this whiny version of herself was beginning to get under her skin. "Who's doing this to you?"
"Rachel!" She hugged her knees close to her chest. "It's all she ever does anymore, beating me into near-death, then healing me just enough so that she can do it all over again."
Celes was taken aback. Rachel? She was done sitting down. She still hadn't entirely decided whether she was going to help her cellmate or pick up on the search for a way home (perhaps through whatever mirror it was that had brought her here). But if something - anything - was going to happen, there would need to be some light around for them to do it. If only she still had a piece of magicite on her person.
"In or out?" the general asked.
"The door to this cell." She moved as she spoke, feeling the surrounding walls for anything that felt like hinges or even a lock. "Does it swing in or out?"
The footsteps outside stopped, replaced now with the jingling of keys.
"Out," she replied.
A lock clicked open . . .
Her imperial reflexes reacting almost instantly, Celes jumped in the direction of the door, took hold of the first rafter her hands came across, and kicked out with both feet. The iron door shot out from its frame, catching Rachel full in the face. She dropped like deadweight.
Light flooded in on the two of them from out in the grim corridor, though it wasn't quite what the general had been expecting. The Falcon she remembered had lanterns hanging from timbered walls beside each and every stateroom door. This place however had hallways of black steel, with only scant illumination being given from wall-mounted beacons that lined the walls every couple of meters or so.
"Celes . . ." She pulled the ring of keys out from the lock and took hold of Rachel's arms. "Let's go. We're getting out--"
The general stopped herself. Through the dim light in the door frame, she was finally able to see what her cellmate really looked like. She was the exact visage of the bruised and bloodied woman she had seen in the mirror before all of this had gotten started. After the two of them had gawked at one another for what seemed like hours, Celes found her train of thought again.
"The mirror!" She dropped Rachel and went back into the now-lit cell. She found what she was looking for hanging on the wall that stood off to her left-hand side. She reached out to touch it, hoping it would pull her in as it had done before. But her fingers found only the solid glass of a real mirror and nothing else. "I don't understand it."
"Celes?" The other woman finally found the strength to stand up and walk towards her. "Celes."
"I don't belong here," the general finally told her. "I have to find some way to return home."
"Help me first," Celes pleaded. "Help me to stop this ship from finding my friends, then I'll do what I can to help you get home."
At the moment, it didn't seem like she had much choice.
"Alright . . . Celes. Where do we go from here?"
* * *
"It's okay, brother. It won't be much longer now."
Two faint silhouettes - one thin and enfeebled, the other a towering hulk of metal and madness - were the only ones to populate the stale recesses of their deck-three stateroom. The former fumbled with the instruments on his tooltray, his hands crippled from arthritis as well as years of overuse. The other was like a still-life, seemingly dead but for the discordant rattle of hissing and clanking that served as its means of speech.
"What do you mean 'Then what'? We'll go home to Figaro, where we'll both be king. That was the plan, remember? Setzer gave us his word."
Finally able to force all the fingers of his left hand around the shaft of his torque wrench, Edgar brought the tool up past the machine's left limb and tightened what bolts he still found to be loose. There was nothing left for his brother to feel, no feelings of pain from being operated on, no sorrow for the deaths of their mother and father, not even any rage towards the gambler for killing them. There was only the faintest sense of awareness now, and it was this awareness that kept it asking its questions.
"He's not all bad. He spared us, didn't he? And besides that, Setzer even promised us a quarter of the spoils after we get rid of Kefka. That ought to be more than enough to regain control of both the Figaro and the Kohilegen regions. That's a good thing, isn't it?"
The machine remained completely silent this time.
"I know you've been melancholy brother, but you have to look on the brighter side of all this as well. You have your freedom now. I promised you your freedom since the beginning, didn't I?"
Its servos hissed and growled vehemently this time, and Edgar even had to take a step back from where he was working the automaton was so outraged.
"All I promised you was your freedom." He pried open the machine's cranial chassis, exposing the brain that lay within - all that remained of the late Sabin Rene Figaro. "I never said that your humanity would remain intact."
His stray hand probed the tooltray blindly for the syringe he had filled earlier. This was all wrong, he thought to himself. The experiment was supposed to block off the production of acetocolene, and thus inhibit any aggressive tendencies Sabin may have had while alive (unless it was ordered to do so). Finding the injection, and then struggling with crooked fingers to get a hold of it, Edgar pushed the serum into the cerebral cortex. He stared at it. The minutes passed. The machine's tree-sized limbs started to slow, and then ceased completely.
"You'll thank me before the end."
"Still playing with your toys, I see."
A third silhouette joined them in the dank of the stateroom, one that was broad in the shoulders and arms with a mane of dark black hair that ran untamed along either side of his head. The voice held an air of dignity and grace, but also appeared to be masking some ulterior motive that no one around him could put their finger on. A harsh-looking suit of spiked armor eclipsed his physique at all times, as prudent a precaution as any aboard a ship with no rules.
"This stateroom is off limits to your kind," Edgar snapped, ignoring the mercenary's comment.
"Yes," he said, sauntering about as though he owned the place. "I just figured that since you keep pushing your own limits, you'd be inclined to make an exception."
Edgar returned to his work, still fumbling with the devices on his bench.
"Need a hand?"
"Oh, come on." The mercenary moved closer to him, kicking through the scrapheap that ran ankle-deep along the floor of the chamber. "Is it really such a hard thing to accept some help from a friend?"
"We're not friends, Garamonde." Edgar gave up trying to fit a socket into his ratchet wrench, choosing instead to get rid of an obstacle that was far more annoying. "Why don't you tell me the real reason why you decided to pay my brother and I a visit?"
"Alright, fine." And his condescending tone crumbled like a sand sculpture. "The gambler sent me to tell you that, there's been an incident involving our prisoner. Somehow she got out of her cell, and it's possible that an agent of the Republic is bleeding around the ship in her company."
"Your 'brother' " He almost coughed the word. " will be needed to find them and bring them back alive before they have a chance to sabotage the ship."
"Sabin isn't ready to be ordered around just yet." With a welding visor held over his eyes by an unsteady hand, Edgar slowly but effectively reknitted a torn metal joint back together with his torch. "He still needs a lot of work after the beating he took from the natives of that town we sacked last."
"It's two people," Cyan said with a sneer. "And they're women, no less. I think your sibling has what it takes to subdue a couple of girls." The mercenary suddenly switched gears. "Or perhaps we should turn our resident esper loose to find them?"
"No!" Edgar staggered back and dropped his torch. "I mean, you can't. Last time we freed her, she wrecked half the ship trying to find a way out. And then, there was Sabin . . ."
"Yes?" He grinned, satisfied that he had found a nerve.
Edgar shook his head, trying to rid himself of the grotesque imagery of that day. "Sabin . . . will be ready."
"Excellent. Bring him up to speed and see that he deals with it. When the gambler's taken care of the Republic, perhaps we should take care of him as well."
Edgar gave him a steely look. "So, you still intend on following through with your plan to take the Falcon?"
"We could do it together, you know. You and I, and Sabin of course. The three of us could rule this entire world."
"No more than you are," the mercenary replied, "Always messing around with a bucket of bolts you still call a brother."
"Well, I'm not the one who poisoned the people of Doma to get what he wanted."
Cyan's hand strayed to the hilt of his katana but held off from drawing it. "I did what I felt what was in the best interest of a kingdom's most deserving monarch. I'd have thought you of all people would have understood that."
"I have to get back to work now," was all Edgar would say as he reached for his ratchet wrench again.
Cyan found it first, fitting the proper socket into it for him. "Make haste. Trouble brews even as we speak."
Edgar would give him no look or even an argument as the mercenary made his exit, kicking metallic dross aside unceremoniously as he did so. He sighed and returned to his repairs.
"Trouble's always brewing, isn't it brother?"
The machine remained completely silent.
* * *
The Magitek Knight glanced out of one of the ship's many portals. On a clear day, or even a cloudy one, the sun was the first thing anyone aboard her Falcon could see while airborne. Here, it was just a starless, cloudless nothing. Every so often, the ship would pass over what looked to be a city or township, and it was then that a beam of blinding light lanced down from along the gunwale of the ship. She would watch the city disintegrate, with the agonized screams of its citizens reaching up to them from somewhere beneath the remains.
"Magitek?" she heard herself ask. "This ship can use Magitek?"
"Of course," came the timid voice of her doppleganger. "Yours can't?"
Both women continued their creeping along the outer corridor, one which the general's acute hearing told them was vacant of any activity.
"Our Falcon is a ship of peace," she said, "Captained by a free spirit who wants nothing to do with conflict."
"I truly need to see this world for myself."
The general sighed. "So do I."
The two of them had remained as quiet as they could to avoid detection. It had been some twenty minutes or so since they had broken free, and so far no one (at least no one the two Chere's could discern) had spotted them. Their plan was to find some way of damaging the ship from the inside out, though there was still no sign of anything that looked like a helm or an engine room.
"When I was first escorted to my cell, I heard some guards talking about a control room. If I understood them correctly, it should be on this floor somewhere."
"And we can take down the ship from there?"
"Probably. If nothing else, we'll be able to send a message to the Republic and let them in on what we're trying to do."
And so, they kept moving. The general took caution when it came to talking about people she knew in this world, though it took everything she could muster to not be curious. Several of the names she mentioned as they walked - Relm, Strago, Gau - were names the other Celes never even heard of before today. They were either some place else, dead, or didn't exist at all. It didn't matter. She knew enough about the ones that were present to avoid them at all costs.
". . . is secure. Awaiting further orders."
Both of them planted their backs against the nearest wall, the general taking point. She edged her right eye out around the corner, finding what looked to be several Imperial soldiers flanking an iron door with the words 'Control Room' etched into its surface.
"Three of them," she whispered. "Looks like they all have crossbows."
"They must have been expecting us," Celes whispered back.
"One of us is going to have to create a diversion while the other sneak attacks them." She pulled out the sword that was still resting in her scabbard. "You go on and make a pass at them or something. I'll circle around and jump them from behind."
"Wait a sec. Why do I have to play the concubine?"
The general frowned. "Well, I just figured that you could pull it off more convincingly than me."
"Meaning what, exactly?"
"I was just . . ." She peered out again to make sure the guards hadn't picked up on their murmuring. "Look then, 'Paper, Rock, Scissors' will decide it. On three."
They put out their hands. Paper and paper.
They tried again. Rock and rock.
They played a third time. Scissors and scissors.
The general sighed. "Damn mirror universe. Fine, I'll take care of the diversion and you sneak attack them. Here, take this."
She gave Celes her blade and did what she could to get into a submissive frame of mind. It couldn't be that difficult. If she could pull off a passable Maria, a tramp from Albrook should be child's play.
"Halt! Who goes there?"
Several crossbows were turned on her all in an instant, but she held her composure.
"It's alright, I surrender." She threw up her hands for good measure. "Come on, now. You wouldn't cut down a defenseless woman, would you? I'm not even fully dressed over here."
She mentally kicked herself. That last part was just stupid-sounding coming from her. The guards, on the other hand, seemed to be taking the bait.
"Hands on your head," another of them yelled. "And come over here, slowly."
"Well, if that's the way you like it." She began to walk, being sure to keep a sultry bounce in her step as well as constantly looking the three of them up and down to keep their attention. "So, what will you do now? Kuff me, probably tie me up?"
Two of the three crossbows trained on her started to falter, but the other was fixed to put an exit wound straight through her forehead. Celes should have known that it wasn't going to be this easy, and started to lean a bit further into her character.
"Relax," she said. "You've caught me. I'll do anything you want me to do, honest."
"You're a champion of the Republic," the untrusting guard replied, the voice sounding synthetic underneath its mask. "There's nothing you can say that we could possibly believe."
She tried sizing the guard up one last time, then said, "Wow, a clever guard. And what brought that on?"
The guard pulled off his helmet, and Celes found that 'he' was actually a 'she'.
"Ah. No wonder."
The hilt of a sword came from out of nowhere, crushing the windpipe of the rightmost guard. Distracted, the unmasked woman was caught off guard as the general wrested the crossbow from her grip and then stitched several arrows into her skull. The third was backed into a corner, suddenly outnumbers two to one.
"Take off your mask," the general growled.
He did so, and she was pleased to find that this one was indeed a male before kneeing him in the groin and knocking him out with the butt of her crossbow.
"Good work," said Celes as she gave her her sword back. "I had no idea you could fight so well. You struck me as more of a housewife than a warrior."
"I'm a praetor," the other Celes growled, "Not a love-starved twit!"
The general smirked. "Well, thank God for that at least. C'mon."
* * *
With the set of keys they had palmed from Rachel, the two of them had no problem in getting within the control room. Making certain no one else was present, both women pulled the three guards inside with them and secured the door. The general expected the nerve center of the Falcon to be a place full of levers and cogwheels, but was disappointed in seeing a chamber of monitors and touch-sensitive panels.
Terrific, she thought, this is only going to make it that much more difficult to do some damage.
"So, how does it look?" she finally asked. "Can you flip some kind of self-destruct switch so we can all go home?"
Celes scanned the different stations that surrounded them, trying to sort out her thoughts. "I can't, but Kefka might."
The two of them sat down next to each other at one of the terminals.
"He's one of the consuls within the Republic, at least he was before it collapsed. He also had a hand in designing this ship, so he might be able to point us in the right direction."
"How long will it take to get a hold of him?"
"Hopefully, just a couple of minutes. He always keeps a comlink open for emergencies."
"Sounds like you know him pretty well."
Celes stopped what she was doing for a split second. "Well enough. We've worked side by side for a lot of years now, so I guess we're as thick as thieves."
She was about to say something else in response when the screen before them came to life. The face that stared back at them was familiar to her, yet at the same time was completely foreign. His garb and his hair were the same as when they had last met, though his face was more benevolent. And without a trace of the ridiculous jester getup that she had been so used to.
As it turned out, Kefka himself seemed to be having some trouble accepting what his eyes were seeing as well.
"Celes?" The screen flickered and buzzed. "Is that you?"
The praetor swelled with happiness. It felt so good to finally see another friendly face. "Don't adjust the screen, Kef. You're not seeing double."
"But how "
"Don't know. There's no time to explain right now anyway. We need the access codes so we can set this ship on self-destruct."
Kefka took a moment or two to come to terms with what he was seeing. "Well, I have the access codes, although the Falcon doesn't have any self-destruct mode that I know of. You'll have to destroy it manually."
"Sounds like fun," the other Celes said at a turn. "How the hell do we do that?"
"You can vent gas from the zeppelin through the exhaust manifolds on either the port or starboard side of the ship. Doing this on either side will the ship to gradually lose its equilibrium and crash."
The general sighed. "Always a catch, isn't there?"
But the praetor remained steadfast. "We'll do it. We have to. The Republic is all that matters now."
Kefka gave what looked to be a heartfelt smile. Now I've seen everything, Celes thought.
"Right," he said. "Okay, then. The access junction should be two terminals to your left. It shouldn't require any access codes, and its mostly just point and click when you get there."
"I'm on it." The general was up out of her seat and over at the proper station in a heartbeat. Mimicking her counterpart, and realizing that the screen in front of her was touch-sensitive, she was able to find the manifold controls in no time. "There. I think that should do it."
"Terrific," said her other self. "What does it say?"
"It says 'Port manifold malfunction'."
"Great! We did it!"
"It's also saying 'Starboard manifold malfunction' . . ."
"And 'Exhaust malfunction' . . ."
"And 'Engine malfunction' . . ."
Kefka was hearing all of this, and suddenly appeared thunderstruck. "The malfunction must have tipped off a cascade failure! Quickly, you're going to have to reach--"
The screens went dead.
"Kefka?" Celes tried working the controls again, but there was no response. "No, damn it! I only just got him back!"
"Oh well, at least things can't get any worse."
The control room door was suddenly ripped away from its hinges and an enormous mechanical giant pushed itself through in its place.
"Now, how the hell did I not see that coming?"
The machine seemed to move even faster than Celes thought possible for its size, and the two of them scarcely had the time to make their way over the room's digital map before it got smashed to pieces. The general gritted her teeth and clicked off the safety on her crossbow, while the praetor could do nothing but cringe and scream.
"Pull yourself together, would ya? You're making me sick!"
She turned back on and squeezed off several bolts. All of them pinged and skittered harmlessly off of the golem's chrome exterior.
"Fuck!" she growled, and grabbed Celes by the scruff of her neck as the machine plowed vehemently into the terminals they had been operating seconds earlier. "Can we make it to the door?"
She wiped away the tears she had been crying, almost certain that she could hear the march of more guards out in the hallway.
"That might not be the best idea."
"Then what are we supposed to do!" Both women kept their heads low behind a work station. "Where are we supposed to--"
"This way!" She pulled up one of the grated panels in the floor. "To the lower decks. There's a cargo hold down there that we can hide in."
Why she hadn't brought it up before, Celes didn't know. At this point, however, stopping to take the time and ask her would have been asinine. Both of them grabbed a hold of each other and jumped in, only barely able to avoid another one of the machine's lethal jabs and the destruction it left in its wake.
* * *
"This is all your fault!" roared the gambler.
Being in a position of power generally made it easier for someone to lay blame upon another in their company. Aboard the Falcon, things worked no differently. Setzer gathered the ones he knew in his stateroom shortly after hearing of the incident in the control room, assuring them that it was to decide what could be done next to contain the situation. Now however, as Edgar was learning first-hand, it seemed to be more concerned with Setzer finding a scapegoat to pin it all on.
"My fault?!" he protested. "You're the one who wanted my brother to 'deal' with the situation."
"At the same time though, it was you who was responsible for building that monstrosity in the first place." Cyan took a special interest in making life worse for the hopeful monarch, and couldn't help but seize an opportunity to rub salt into the wound. "If you had just put some safeguards on that thing, we wouldn't be having this problem."
"If you don't stop those jaws of yours from clacking, I'll program that 'monstrosity' to come after you next."
"Would you two just shut it?!" Now, it was Locke's turn to throw his two cents in. "Bitching about whose fault it is won't accomplish anything. We have to find the problem and destroy it at its source."
The gambler leaned forward in his chair. "And I trust if the matter is left in yours and Rachel's more-than-capable-hands, you'll deal with it?"
The bounty hunter nodded. "But of course."
"For the right price, that is," Rachel added.
Setzer fumed. "Right price?!"
Locke's fingers tapped impatiently on the hilt of his scimitar. "Double the usual going rate."
"There are two of them, now," Rachel replied. "Risk goes up, price goes up."
The gambler came completely apart.
"You won't be satisfied until you've bought this entire ship over, will you?!" he roared. "That's the plan of each and every one of you, isn't it?! To take what I've worked so hard to achieve! Well, forget it! This ship is mine, mine alone! If any of you want it so badly, come and take it from me! All of you, right now!"
So wrapped up were they all in the chaos of their best laid plans that none of them could discern the gravity of a deck-wide power failure until it was already too late. For the Falcon's captive esper, one of the gambler's own wild cards in their war against the Republic, had broken loose from its enclosure. Horned and spindly, supine and swift, it plowed through one stateroom after the next, disemboweling one hapless crew member after another. And then, it found its true prize. Setzer's chamber walls caved in, with one or two of them having only enough time to utter one last strangled cry. Then, the massacre began.
No amount of gold bullion was going to save them now.
* * *
"So, how did you know there was a way out back there?"
"Funny story, really." The two of them crawled out of a ventilation shaft, with the former Magitek Knight keeping her crossbow string taut in case there were anymore unexpected surprises. "Kefka and I met aboard this ship, when it was still in drydock that is."
"Yeah, they were just finishing up the floor paneling when he and I bumped into each other in the control room. He said that the space between decks was sort of like a huge honeycomb, and if you could get into them, you could pretty much go anywhere in the ship."
Celes nodded. "Yeah. Now that I think about it, my first encounter with him was on board this ship too."
"Really? While in drydock?"
"Yeah. Never told me anything worthwhile about ship operations, though. All he said to me was 'Touch anything and it'll be your head! Mwa ha ha ha!'"
Celes seemed a bit unnerved by that. "Is the Kefka you know really that bad?"
What was she supposed to say to that?
"Is he a troublemaker?"
"Not anymore, he isn't."
"Well, that's good to hear at least."
She nodded, then continued looking about the cargo hold for some way out. Except for the emergency lights, all was blanketed in pitch blackness. The general paid particular attention to how her footing edged ever so slightly to the left. The soft hum of the Falcon's engines could no longer be heard emanating from the deck plates either.
"We're going to have to find a way off this ship soon," she said over her shoulder. "There's no telling how much more time we have before we crash."
Celes didn't respond. She turned to look at her and found her rooted to her spot, completely paralyzed. She pivoted to look in her direction, discovering a set of searing yellow eyes staring back at them. Celes raked the sword back out of her scabbard and handed it to Celes, readying her own weapon in the process.
"Stay where you are!" the general warned it. But the eyes kept drawing closer.
"She said, stay where you are!" the praetor put in as she struggled with the unfamiliar weight of the blade.
The eyes stopped then, not because they had been asked to but to make absolutely certain that what they were seeing was real. Then, they continued forward. As the form came into the light, Celes lowered her bow and breathed a sigh of relief.
"Gogo!" The general could have cried she was so glad to find an old friend again.
"Returner-friend," the mimic replied, sounding more solemn than happy. "What manner of ill fortune has brought you here of all places?"
"Your mirror," she fired back in a tone that was deliberately blameful. "You know, the one in the stateroom you had back aboard 'our' Falcon?"
"You must go back," s/he said. "You must return through the same mirror you came in through, and you must do it now." "I tried that already. It didn't work."
"Oh dear . . ." Gogo started pacing around in a circle. "Oh dear me."
"Are you going to tell me what it is you're going on about?" Celes butted in.
"You'll need to excuse us," the mimic said to her. "Celes and I need to speak in private."
"I need to talk to that Celes!" s/he growled.
"Fine," she said, "Be that way."
"Celes . . ." Gogo took her by the arm and led her behind a nearby crate. "Listen to me, how long has it been since you arrived here?"
"Almost an hour or so. Why?"
"Because the longer one is cast into a reflection, the harder it is for them to return."
"What do you mean 'a reflection'?"
"Precisely what it sounds like. Since you arrived, you've probably been under the assumption that you've slipped into an alternate universe, a parallel dimension, or a different plane of reality. None of this is true. This isn't another world. It's just a mirror."
Celes scratched her head. "I don't follow."
The mimic sighed. "Okay. I'll put it to you this way. Remember when we had been practicing our skills together on the Veldt, and I would mimic one of your attacks or a magic spell? It might have been a perfect replica of your abilities, but it wasn't a perfect replica of 'you', was it?"
She gave a slow nod of her head. "Continue."
"Well, this reflection you've fallen into works on the same principle. Your other self is the perfect example. She looks like you, she sounds like you, but she's not quite a replica of your personality, is she?"
"I still don't see how my being here is such a big deal. I mean, I still seem to be in relative control over things."
"But it is a big deal, Returner-friend. When you first got here, I'd imagine the mere thought of war must have repulsed your counterpart. But she's gotten better at handling herself since you came around, am I right?"
Celes gave pause. It was the truth. When breaking into the ship's control room, she could recall just how much more skilled her other self was with a weapon. She was also a lot more confident in her ability to wield one as well, something that she didn't show before.
"Yes," she said at last, "Yes, she has. But what does that mean?"
"What it means is that one Celes Chere is mimicking the other. And in time, she'll have completely taken over the person you are. She'll have gained your skills, all your abilities, your thoughts and experiences, everything. Ultimately, she'll be the one looking for a way back to your world. And then . . ."
"And then, I'll be the one stuck here!"
Gogo nodded. "Blackjack, as our gambler would say."
"So, what am I supposed to do? How do I get home?"
"All you need to do is find a mirror." He placed a small translucent stone into one of her hands. "Toss this into your reflection and the way home will be open to you."
"And how the hell am I supposed to find a mirror before we crash?"
"Through the bay doors, hang a left, and it'll be the last door on your right. That's where your mirror is." Celes blinked, not sure of what to say. Gogo's eyes rolled cryptically. "It's all a part of being a mimic."
"I see. And what about you? Are you coming with me?"
The eyes beneath the mimic's mask gave a shimmer, indicating a smile. Then, Gogo turned back on to her and retired to the shadow from when s/he came.
She turned and saw herself sprinting down the length of the cargo hold. Without looking back, she ran to catch up. For all she knew, she was beginning to become as cocky as she was, maybe even showing the same prowess for unarmed combat. Maybe it was a good thing, but at the same time it could get in the way of her trying to get home.
"We should be able to escape through here." Celes was throwing open the latch on the bay doors just as the general caught up with her. "Is your frilly-looking friend coming with us?"
"I don't think Gogo's in any immediate danger at the moment."
"No immediate danger?" Celes kicked the doors open. "This ship could crash at any second. Maybe you should go back and ask to be sure."
"I think we ought to be more concerned with her."
"With who? Oh."
Just beyond the threshold, walking with one leg twisted inward and an expression of savage determination hanging from her tattered face, was Rachel. What was left of Rachel, that was. Blood came down in rivulets, trailing down around her even now. Her left arm looked to have been gnawed off at the elbow, but this didn't keep her from bringing a falchion to bear with her right. The general could tell that there was murder in those eyes, but also something else that she couldn't quite place. Was it sorrow? Had she done something to her, made her lose someone that was close to her even?
"Just go," the general told Celes.
"I might be able to--"
So high had her adrenaline begun to boil that Celes couldn't have possibly prepared herself for the embrace her other self forced onto her. It was an awkward feeling to say the least, getting hugged by another woman especially when she was a mirror image of herself. Then, she was gone.
"How sweet," Rachel rasped between bloody teeth. "So sorry to have to break you apart from your girlfriend like this. You understand though that, breaking things is what I do best."
Celes didn't bother with a response, since no spoken word was going to do away with her enemy anyway. Instead, she took short, cautious steps towards her. Rachel did the same. If looks could kill, the duel would have already been ended. As it was, however, keen blades would be just as effective. Rachel leveled her sword.
"You must have been looking forward to this for a long time."
The general matched the gesture.
Woooosh! And her blade lashed out across Celes' field of vision, missing her head by mere centimeters. Losing an arm had done nothing to slow the enforcer down, and continued her slashing even before the general had a chance to counterattack. Celes parried when necessary, feinting when she thought she could retort with a killing strike of her own. But Rachel was too thoroughly grounded in armed combat to fall for it, backstepping and parrying herself before resuming the vicious attack.
Celes ducked again and then barrel-rolled, coming up from behind to try and exploit the woman's blind spot. But Rachel had already found her, as though one eye was trained on the general at all times. She lashed out again with her blade. Again Celes dodged it, with the blade shrieking harmlessly off of the iron wall of the corridor. She had not yet begun to tire, but then neither had her hard-headed aggressor. Any ordinary opponent would have faltered by this time, but Rachel kept coming like someone possessed. Almost her equal, even.
A scary thought, to say the least.
"A pity that I must disembowel you of all my victims." She twirled the blade along both sides of her wrist, remaining as intimidating as possible for as long as possible. "I don't think I've ever had as much fun torturing my victims as I've had torturing you."
"I think you have me mixed up with someone else."
"We shall see about that, once I've made you scream!"
More thrusting and more parrying, more near misses and more sparks skittering off of the corridors around them. It dawned on Celes at last that she would have to wrap this up quickly, if she wanted to see her world again. It was in that one single moment of realization that she came across the magic pendant jiggling around the torturer's neck. An esper.
Magic could still be used here.
"I'm not the one who'll be doing the screaming."
"You sound awfully confident, for a craven little diplomat."
Parrying, feinting, and then pretending to feint, Celes danced inward and slammed the flat of her blade against the bloody stump of Rachel's left arm. She yelped in pain, dropping her sword in the process. But Celes gave no quarter, giving the blade a kick across the hall before sending another one square into Rachel's jaw.
"Clod!" she growled. "I'll tear you apart with my bare "
"Hand?" A small flame danced at the tips of the general's upended fingers. "Mmmm . . . no, I don't think so."
She blew out a strong gust of wind, and the flame grew to an inferno that destroyed everything it touched. Rachel barely had enough time to comport a look of repulsed disbelief before exploding in a hail of flaming limbs. At last, the general seemed to be in the clear.
"And try to stay dead this time."
* * *
Down the hall to her left, and last door on the right. Those had been the mimic's instructions, and Celes was following them to the best she could without getting sidetracked by the endless shaking of the walls around her. The airship's frenzied descent was impossible to ignore by this time, with their angle now a steep thirty degrees off vertical. She put it out of her mind. In another minute or so, 'her' Falcon would be touching down just outside of Jidoor, and there would be much drinking and dancing to be had.
Plowing a shoulder through the locked iron door that awaited her, she breathed a sigh of relief. The mirror was there waiting for her, on the wall (or at this stage, closer to the floor) where Gogo said it would be.
"Home . . ." She breathed the word more than said it, and took out the crystalline stone in her pocket. "Home . . ."
Celes whipped her head back around and found her outraged counterpart standing in the doorframe.
"Celes," she said, "I thought you'd have found a way off the ship by this time."
"Cut the chit-chat!" she growled. "And give me back that stone. I need it to get home."
"What? But you are home."
"You're lying! You lie through your teeth! That stone belongs to me. You took it from me back out in the hallway. Now, give it back!"
"But Celes "
The cabin around them somersaulted, throwing both women off balance. Celes righted herself and made a grab for the loose stone. The other Celes, however, already had her hands around it and wouldn't let go. Damn, she thought, she really has gotten stronger, maybe her equal now. How, then, was she supposed to get the best of her?
"You have a life here," she grunted, trying to distract her long enough to get the stone back. "The Republic is counting on your return, Kefka is waiting to see you again. Try to remember!"
"No," she said, "That all belongs to you."
Maybe it did, she thought. Celes wasn't altogether sure anymore. Neither one of them were. But the both of them seemed rather settled on leaving and had no desire to stay.
"Let it go, now!" Celes roared.
"You let it go!" Celes roared back.
Another savage wave of turbulence rocked the cabin, throwing the both of them off their bearings. The stone slipped between their fingers, tumbling along the walls of its own volition and vanishing into the mirror. Celes righted herself and, learning that the door leading home was now open, wasted no time. Without bothering to utter so much as a goodbye, Celes stepped over her prone form and made a dive for the mirror.
Celes started to cry out, but she had already disappeared . . .
* * *
She picked up on the voice almost the moment gravity pulled her back down to the floor - a wooden floor, unlike the cold, cast-iron bulkheads of the ship she had just come from. The treasure hunter's arms enveloped Celes soon after, gingerly picking her up from where she had fallen. Despite herself, Celes embraced him as though something else could pull him away from her at any second.
"Are you a sight for sore eyes," she told him, smiling sincerely.
"Likewise. What happened? We've all been turning the ship upside down looking for you." He squinted. "And did you just fall out of that mirror?"
She rubbed her head, wanting to tell him everything that had transpired but at the same time trying to forget it all.
"It's a long, complicated story. Even I'm not entirely sure what to make of it all."
"Well," he said, putting a hand on her waist, "Why don't you tell me all about it while we make our way to Jidoor? Everybody's waiting for us, and we still have that dance to get to."
Celes walked with him to their stateroom door then, taking only enough time to smile a knowing smile towards the mirror from whence she came. For on its opposite side, she could see the general crying tears of rage that no one else could see, pounding her fists on a door that no one else could answer.
Seconds later, a collision no one else could hear ended the general's struggling for good.
All That Glitters Is Cold Fanfic Competition
Zaphod Beeblebrox's Fanfiction
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